Shadowgate (ICOM Simulations, 1987)

One last doom & gloom-themed game for October, RetroFans, and we can get back to the usual variety fare. This one's a good example of how we can gauge a title's success by how readily it was ported to other platforms, and it's also a standout in its style of play. Shadowgate isn't a run-and-jump platformer or a fast-paced shooter... in fact, players are well-advised to take their time while wandering through this game, lest they die in one of the countless ways possible within the warlock's fortress.

Originally released for the Macintosh in 1987, Shadowgate is a point-and-click “adventure” game. I put “adventure” in quotes because what “adventure” really seems to mean here is “puzzles that kill you out of hand for getting them wrong so you have to start over.” The premise of the game is that some wizard named Lakmir has sent you to stop a warlock from calling up the Behemoth, which is some kind of bad-news demon. No one really asked you; you're “the seed of the prophecy.” In other words, you've been thrust into this position (and this creepy castle) regardless of your feelings on the matter, and it's your problem to solve.

The NES (left) and Amiga (right) box art.

You're expected to do this by solving a series of puzzles, all interlocking and complex. Normally, that'd be fun, right? Lots of people like puzzle games. They're stimulating and grant a sense of triumph when you succeed. Here's the thing: If you do pretty much anything but exactly what you're supposed to do while engaging any of these puzzles, you're probably gonna die. Not only that, but the game will describe, in detail, your death. Sometimes, it'll even mock you. No matter what, you always get to see this guy:

You son of a bitch.

You son of a bitch.

Some of the deaths are comical, some of them are strange, and plenty of them are just gruesome. Nonetheless, it IS possible to finish/win the game... you just better be ready to find a guide or go through a lot of brutal trial-and-error to do it.

Shadowgate was ported to pretty much all other computer platforms of the time, and the NES saw a port of it the same year (co-developed by Kemco). It has also been ported to the Game Boy, mobile phones, modern operating systems... even the Philips CD-i got a port of Shadowgate. For all its heinous and punishing difficulty, the game was successful and grabbed itself a place in pop culture that endures to this day.

Death and futility are your closest allies in Shadowgate.

The success and positive reception of the NES port led ICOM and Kemco to port over previous games produced using the same interface: Deja Vu and Uninvited. Both have a similarly dark tone and uncompromising punishment for mistakes. In the late 90s, sequels were released on the TG-16 and N64. In 2012, a company called Zojoi funded a remake of Shadowgate via Kickstarter, which was successfully released in 2014.

Now you can kill yourself over and over with better graphics!

Now you can kill yourself over and over with better graphics!

Personally, Shadowgate isn't my cup of tea. That said, it's immensely popular and I can view it objectively with a fair amount of appreciation. I give it 8/10. It's iconic of its genre, legendary for all the right reasons, and it's entertaining even if you (I) suck at it.

God DAMMIT!

God DAMMIT!

Well folks, it's been quite an October... but we'll be back to our regular tricks and treats starting next month. We look forward to what's left of 2016... and what's beyond? Well, that's probably even cooler. You wait and see.